Sunday, 15 April 2012

Women and children first

I just listened to Jeanette Winterson's short Radio 4 series on the Titanic. The last of the five short programmes was a look at the aftermath of the disaster. It's well known that women and children were prioritised for lifeboat spaces when the ship went down, but I didn't know that this was used to throw back in the faces  of the suffragettes who were campaigning (women over 30 got the vote in Britain in 1918, six years after the Titanic sank). They were basically told that they should be grateful for this kind of gallantry that meant their lives were saved, and accept their place.

Something that I've always found troubling is that in championing a cause you have to take the good and bad that comes with it. If we are truly equal to men, then, as much as practicable, we should have the same rights, but also the same sacrifices, we shouldn't be discriminated against, either positively or negatively. What is most troubling about this is that it is easy for me to say - I am one of the luckiest women alive: I have lived a priviliged cared for life, I am educated, free from abuse, independent with a fantastic job, with my own money, free to make my own choices and do as I please. Is it really for me to say what women in a lesser position should accept. Because if you haven't been given the luxury of education and cannot exercise the kind of freedom and independence that I can, isn't being given a seat on a bus by a man the least you should expect? Didn't these kinds of women deserve to have their lives saved?

Is it wrong for a man to give up his seat on a train for a woman? Is he showing her respect or is he disrespecting her gender?  It's no good pretending their are no differences between us. I was born a feminist, although I never would have owned it. I don't know where my convictions came from, but I spent the first 25 years of my life refusing to acknowledge any differences between myself and the boys/men I knew. At times I wondered if I was more a misogynist, hating women for wearing pink, talking about hair and make up, being weaker then men, having periods. But in my own small way I have fought against discrimination. And I hope that I fight against it still. For the last eight years I have finally begun to celebrate our differences, embracing a muted form of girliness that has finally led to my current aspirations to motherhood.